Achievement among first-year university students: an integrated and contextualised approach

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This paper presents a prospective study aimed at identifying the predictors of academic achievement among first-year university students. It tries to develop an inclusive view of academic achievement by taking into account the possible differential impact of several predictors in two different faculties of the university. Some 317 university students from the two faculties (science and physical education), who were in their first year at university, participated in the study. During the academic year, these students completed a questionnaire. The outcome variable was their average academic mark at the end of the year. Multiple regression analyses were performed to identify the most powerful predictors of achievement. The results showed that past school failure, parental education and self-efficacy beliefs predicted achievement in both programs. Age, secondary-school specialisation, reasons for choosing the program, deep processing, time spent studying and intention to persist have also been highlighted as significant predictors of success, but only in one of the two faculties. Self-efficacy was the most powerful predictor of achievement in physical education courses, whereas intention to persist was the most powerful predictor in science. These results show the importance of adopting an integrated and contextualised approach to exploring the predictors of academic achievement at university.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Grade retention is widespread in Belgium, with more than 50 % of students having failed at least 1 year by the end of secondary school.

  2. 2.

    Analyses with all the variables entered together (no blocks) gave similar results.


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This research was supported by grants from the Louvain Foundation, from the Université catholique de Louvain (FSR) and the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS - FRFC). The authors would like to thank the lecturers and students of the Departments of Physical Education and Science for their support and participation.

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Correspondence to Benoît Galand.

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Mikaël De Clercq. Université Catholique de Louvain, 10 Place Cardinal Mercier, 1348 Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium. E-mail:

Current themes of research:

Mikaël De Clercq is a Ph.D. student at the Univesité catholique de Louvain. His research interests focus on the predictors of academic achievement among first year at the university and on he impact of motivation on student’s learning process.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

De Clercq, M., (2011, July) Motivation, Learning environment and Entrance profiles in first year at the university: ‘Development of an integrative understanding of academic achievement’. Poster presented at the 16th ELSIN conference, Anvers, Belgium.

De Clercq, M., Galand, B., Frenay, M., (2012) Chicken or the Egg: Longitudinal analysis of the causal dilemma between goal orientation, Self-regulation and learning strategies in higher education. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Benoît Galand. Faculty of Psychology and Education, Université Catholique de Louvain, 10 Place Cardinal Mercier, 1348 Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium. E-mail:; Web site:

Current themes of research:

Benoît Galand obtained a Ph.D. degree in psychology from the University of Louvain in 2001. He is a professor at the department of Psychology of UCL. His research interests focus on the effects of instructional practices on student motivation, learning and psycho-social adaptation. He lectures in educational psychology, pedagogy and research methodology for graduate and undergraduate students.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Galand, B. & Bourgeois, E. (Eds.) (2006). (Se) Motiver à apprendre. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Galand, B., Dernoncourt, O. & Mirzabekiantz, G. (2009). Caractéristiques relationnelles et émotionnelles des auteurs et des victimes de violences à l’école. Revue suisse des sciences de l’éducation, numéro thématique sur le violence à l’école, 31, 33-56.

Galand, B., Raucent, B., & Frenay, M. (2010). Engineering students’ self-regulation, study strategies, and motivational beliefs in traditional and problem-based curricula. International Journal of Engineering Education, Special issue on Methodology for the study of PBL in Engineering Education, 26(3), 523-534.

Serge Dupont. Fonds de la recherche scientifique – FNRS, Université Catholique de Louvain, 10 Place Cardinal Mercier, 1348 Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium. E-mail:

Current themes of research:

Serge Dupont is a Ph.D. student at the Univesity of Louvain. His research interests focus on the determinants of the postponement in the completion of the final dissertation, on students’ achievement and on the associated variables of students’ engagement.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Dupont, S., Meert, G., Galand, B., & Nils, F. (2011). Comment expliquer le dépôt différé du mémoire de fin d’étude? Les cahiers de recherche du Girsef, 85.

Dupont, S., Meert, G., Galand, B., & Nils, F. (2011). Postponement in the Completion of Final Dissertation: An underexplored dimension of achievement in higher education. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Mariane Frenay. Faculty of Psychology and Education, Université Catholique de Louvain. 10 Place Cardinal Mercier, 1348 Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium. E-mail:; Website:

Current themes of research:

Mariane Frenay is a professor at the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium (Faculty of Psychology and Education) and received her Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology in 1994. She is an active researcher in the field of higher education teaching and learning and faculty development, and since 2001, she is part of the UNESCO Chair of university teaching and learning of her university. She has been teaching for several years in the Masters and the doctoral program in Psychology and in Education.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Frenay, M., Galand, B., Milgrom, E. & Raucent, B. (2007). Project- and problem-based learning in the engineering curriculum at the University of Louvain. In Graaf & A.Kolmos (Eds.), Management of change: Implementation of problem-based and project-based learning in engineering (pp. 93–108). Rotterdam: Sense Publisher.

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De Clercq, M., Galand, B., Dupont, S. et al. Achievement among first-year university students: an integrated and contextualised approach. Eur J Psychol Educ 28, 641–662 (2013).

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  • Higher education
  • Academic achievement
  • College students
  • Self-efficacy